With proposed cuts to the University of Wisconsin System causing university officials to look for ways to save, students could see an increased presence of adjunct faculty teaching their courses.
Adjunct faculty, referred to as “lecturers” at UW, are often part-time and temporary professors colleges employ to meet course demand. Because they are part-time employees, they usually do not receive full benefits. At UW, most lecturers have doctorate degrees, although this is an uncommon trait for adjuncts hired at smaller institutions.
Some education experts say reliance on lecturers could increase due to potential cuts to UW in the state budget. Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal cuts $300 million to the UW System while granting the system more autonomy and flexibility to come up with savings.
Noel Radomski, director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, said those budgets would likely make campus departments first turn to cutting salaries of new adjunct faculty instead of tenured professors.
“I believe that there will be more non-faculty teaching, and it’s highly probable that the salaries of those non-faculty will be lower due to the state budget cuts,” Radomski said.
Heather Daniels, secretary of the academic staff at UW, said she is unsure whether reliance on adjunct faculty will increase. She said because adjunct faculty usually have less job security, it would be easier to hire them as needed. However, she said because of reduced funding due to cuts, the university will probably refrain from making many new hires at all.
“It’s up in the air,” she said.
The university had been increasingly relying on adjunct faculty even before the latest cuts to the system were proposed.
For instance, in fall 2004, faculty taught 54.57 percent of lecture courses, while adjuncts taught 29.11 percent, according to the UW data digest. But in fall 2013, faculty only taught 48.75 percent of lectures while adjuncts taught 34.93 percent.
Daniels said UW’s percentage of adjunct faculty is still relatively low compared to other schools in the nation. She estimated that on average, non-faculty members teach around half of all courses on college campuses across the nation.
According to Radomski, this decline in faculty teaching may be due to UW’s increasing status as a research university. When a faculty members gets a grant to focus on research, they will often use a portion of this money to supplement their own teaching with a lecturer.
He also said since class demand fluctuates, the university often takes on temporary lecturers who are cheaper to employ to fill the need when it arises.
“You don’t know what that demand will look like three years from now, so the schools and colleges want that flexibility, so they’ll hire adjuncts,” Radomski said. “The trend is to better address course demand by students where the university saves money by not hiring faculty and by hiring non-faculty to teach.”
Radomski said adjuncts must be considered at least half-time employees to receive benefits like like health insurance, retirement, sick leave and vacation time.
Daniels said UW is one of few institutions that aims to protect against exploiting adjunct faculty.
She said UW established a rule preventing the university from offering one-year appointments that terminate on June 30 of every year. If an instructor has taught the same course for three semesters in a row, UW is required to either offer the employee a permanent job or permanently terminate employment.